Duomo di Milano

Milan Cathedral (Italian: Duomo di Milano; Milanese: Domm de Milan) is the cathedral church of Milan in Lombardy, northern Italy. Dedicated to Santa Maria Nascente (Saint Mary Nascent), it is the seat of the Archbishop of Milan, currently Cardinal Angelo Scola.

The Gothic cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete. It is the fourth largest cathedral in the world and by far the largest in Italy. (St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, though considerably larger, is not a cathedral.)

History

Milan's layout, with streets either radiating from the Duomo or circling it, reveals that the Duomo occupies what was the most central site in Roman Mediolanum, that of the public basilica facing the forum. Saint Ambrose's 'New Basilica' was built on this site at the beginning of the 5th century, with an adjoining basilica added in 836. When a fire damaged both buildings in 1075, they were later rebuilt as the Duomo

The beginning

In 1386, Archbishop Antonio da Saluzzo began construction in a rayonnant Late Gothic style more typically French than Italian. Construction coincided with the accession to power in Milan of the archbishop's cousin Gian Galeazzo Visconti, and was meant as a reward to the noble and working classes, who had suffered under his tyrannical Visconti predecessor Barnabò. Before actual work began, three main buildings were demolished: the palace of the Archbishop, the Ordinari Palace and the Baptistry of St. Stephen at the Spring, while the old church of Sta. Maria Maggiore was exploited as a stone quarry. Enthusiasm for the immense new building soon spread among the population, and the shrewd Gian Galeazzo, together with his cousin the archbishop, collected large donations for the work-in-progress. The construction program was strictly regulated under the "Fabbrica del Duomo", which had 300 employees led by first chief engineer Simone da Orsenigo. Galeazzo gave the Fabbrica exclusive use of the marble from the Candoglia quarry and exempted it from taxes.

In 1389, a French chief engineer, Nicolas de Bonaventure, was appointed, adding to the church its strong Gothic imprint. Ten years later another French architect, Jean Mignot, was called from Paris to judge and improve upon the work done, as the masons needed new technical aid to lift stones to an unprecedented height. Mignot declared all the work done up till then as in pericolo di ruina ("peril of ruin"), as it had been done sine scienzia ("without science"). In the following years Mignot's forecasts proved untrue, but anyway they spurred Galeazzo's engineers to improve their instruments and techniques. Work proceeded quickly, and at the death of Gian Galeazzo in 1402, almost half the cathedral was complete. Construction, however, stalled almost totally until 1480, due to lack of money and ideas: the most notable works of this period were the tombs of Marco Carelli and Pope Martin V (1424) and the windows of the apse (1470s), of which those extant portray St. John the Evangelist, by Cristoforo de' Mottis, and Saint Eligius and San John of Damascus, both by Niccolò da Varallo. In 1452, under Francesco Sforza, the nave and the aisles were completed up to the sixth bay.

In 1500 to 1510, under Ludovico Sforza, the octagonal cupola was completed, and decorated in the interior with four series of 15 statues each, portraying saints, prophets, sibyls and other characters of the Bible. The exterior long remained without any decoration, except for the Guglietto dell'Amadeo ("Amadeo's Little Spire"), constructed 1507-1510. This is a Renaissance masterwork which nevertheless harmonized well with the general Gothic appearance of the church.

During the subsequent Spanish domination, the new church proved usable, even though the interior remained largely unfinished, and some bays of the nave and the transepts were still missing. In 1552 Giacomo Antegnati was commissioned to build a large organ for the north side of the choir, and Giuseppe Meda provided four of the sixteen pales which were to decorate the altar area (the program was completed by Federico Borromeo). In 1562, Marco d' Lopez's St. Bartholomew and the famous Trivulzio candelabrum (12th century) were added.

Charles Borromeo

After the accession of Carlo Borromeo to the archbishop's throne, all lay monuments were removed from the Duomo. These included the tombs of Giovanni, Barnabò and Filippo Maria Visconti, Francesco I and his wife Bianca, Galeazzo Maria and Lodovico Sforza, which were brought to unknown destinations. However, Borromeo's main intervention was the appointment, in 1571, of Pellegrino Pellegrini as chief engineer— a contentious move, since to appoint Pellegrino, who was not a lay brother of the duomo, required a revision of the Fabbrica's statutes.

Borromeo and Pellegrini strove for a new, Renaissance appearance for the cathedral, that would emphasise its Roman / Italian nature, and subdue the Gothic style, which was now seen as foreign. As the façade still was largely incomplete, Pellegrini designed a "Roman" style one, with columns, obelisks and a large tympanum. When Pellegrini's design was revealed, a competition for the design of the façade was announced, and this elicited nearly a dozen entries, including one by Antonio Barca

This design was never carried out, but the interior decoration continued: in 1575-1585 the presbytery was rebuilt, while new altars and the baptistry were added in the nave.

Wooden choir stalls were constructed by 1614 for the main altar by Francesco Brambilla.

In 1577 Borromeo finally consecrated the whole edifice as a new church, distinct from the old Santa Maria Maggiore and Santa Tecla (which had been unified in 1549 after heavy disputes).

17th century

At the beginning of the 17th century Federico Borromeo had the foundations of the new façade laid by Francesco Maria Richini and Fabio Mangone. Work continued until 1638 with the construction of five portals and two middle windows. In 1649, however, the new chief architect Carlo Buzzi introduced a striking revolution: the façade was to revert to original Gothic style, including the already finished details within big Gothic pilasters and two giant belfries. Other designs were provided by, among others, Filippo Juvarra (1733) and Luigi Vanvitelli (1745), but all remained unapplied. In 1682 the façade of Santa Maria Maggiore was demolished and the cathedral's roof covering completed.

In 1762 one of the main features of the cathedral, the Madonnina's spire, was erected at the dizzying height of 108.5 m. The spire was designed by Francesco Croce and sports at the top a famous polychrome Madonnina statue, designed by Giuseppe Perego that befits the original stature of the cathedral. Given Milan's notoriously damp and foggy climate, the Milanese consider it a fair-weather day when the Madonnina is visible from a distance, as it is so often covered by mist.

Completion

On May 20, 1805, Napoleon Bonaparte, about to be crowned King of Italy, ordered the façade to be finished. In his enthusiasm, he assured that all expenses would fall to the French treasurer, who would reimburse the Fabbrica for the real estate it had to sell. Even though this reimbursement was never paid, it still meant that finally, within only seven years, the Cathedral had its façade completed. The new architect, Francesco Soave, largely followed Buzzi's project, adding some neo-Gothic details to the upper windows. As a form of thanksgiving, a statue of Napoleon was placed at the top of one of the spires. Napoleon was crowned King of Italy at the Duomo.

In the following years, most of the missing arches and spires were constructed. The statues on the southern wall were also finished, while in 1829-1858, new stained glass windows replaced the old ones, though with less aesthetically significant results. The last details of the cathedral were finished only in the 20th century: the last gate was inaugurated on January 6, 1965. This date is considered the very end of a process which had proceeded for generations, although even now, some uncarved blocks remain to be completed as statues. The Duomo's main façade went under renovation from 2003 to early 2009: as of February 2009, it has been completely uncovered, showing again the colours of the Candoglia marble.

Architecture and art

The plan consists of a nave with four side-aisles, crossed by a transept and then followed by choir and apse. The height of the nave is about 45 meters, the highest Gothic vaults of a complete church (less than the 48 meters of Beauvais Cathedral, which was never completed).

The roof is open to tourists (for a fee), which allows many a close-up view of some spectacular sculpture that would otherwise be unappreciated. The roof of the cathedral is renowned for the forest of openwork pinnacles and spires, set upon delicate flying buttresses.

The cathedral's five broad naves, divided by 40 pillars, are reflected in the hierarchic openings of the façade. Even the transepts have aisles. The nave columns are 24.5 metres (80 ft) high, and the apsidal windows are 20.7 x 8.5 metres (68 x 28 feet). The huge building is of brick construction, faced with marble from the quarries which Gian Galeazzo Visconti donated in perpetuity to the cathedral chapter. Its maintenance and repairs are very complicated.

Milan’s cathedral has recently developed a new lighting system, based on LED lights.

Aesthetic Judgments

The cathedral was built over several hundred years in a number of contrasting styles and the quality of the workmanship varies markedly. Reactions to it have ranged from admiration to disfavour. The Guida d’Italia: Milano 1998 (Touring Club Editore, p. 154) points out that the early Romantics tended to praise it in “the first intense enthusiasms for Gothic.” As the Gothic Revival brought in a purer taste, condemnation was often equally intense.

John Ruskin commented acidly that the cathedral steals "from every style in the world: and every style spoiled. The cathedral is a mixture of Perpendicular with Flamboyant, the latter being peculiarly barbarous and angular, owing to its being engrafted, not on a pure, but a very early penetrative Gothic … The rest of the architecture among which this curious Flamboyant is set is a Perpendicular with horizontal bars across: and with the most detestable crocketing, utterly vile. Not a ray of invention in a single form… Finally the statues all over are of the worst possible common stonemasons’ yard species, and look pinned on for show. The only redeeming character about the whole being the frequent use of the sharp gable … which gives lightness, and the crowding of the spiry pinnacles into the sky.” (Notebooks). The plastered ceiling painted to imitate elaborate tracery carved in stone particularly aroused his contempt as a “gross degradation”.

While appreciating the force of Ruskin’s criticisms, Henry James was more appreciative: “A structure not supremely interesting, not logical, not … commandingly beautiful, but grandly curious and superbly rich. … If it had no other distinction it would still have that of impressive, immeasurable achievement … a supreme embodiment of vigorous effort.”

Main monuments and sights

The interior of the cathedral includes numerous monuments and artworks. These include:

  • The Archbishop Alberto da Intimiano's sarcophagus, which is overlooked by a Crucifix in copper laminae (a replica).
  • The sarcophagi of the archbishops Ottone Visconti and Giovanni Visconti, created by a Campionese master in the 14th century.
  • The sarcophagus of Marco Carelli, who donated 35,000 ducati to accelerate the construction of the cathedral.
  • The three magnificent altars by Pellegrino Pellegrini, which include the notable Federico Zuccari's Visit of St. Peter to St. Agatha jailed.
  • In the right transept, the monument to Gian Giacomo Medici di Marignano, called "Medeghino", by Leone Leoni, and the adjacent Renaissance marble altar, decorated with gilt bronze statues.
  • In front of the former mausoleum is the most renowned work of art of the cathedral, the St. Bartholomew statue by Marco D'Agrate.
  • The presbytery is a late Renaissance masterpiece composing a choir, a Temple by Pellegrini, two pulpits with giant atlantes covered in copper and bronze, and two large organs. Around the choir the two sacristies' portals, some frescoes and a fifteenth-century statue of Martin V by Jacopino da Tradate) can be seen.
  • The transepts house the Trivulzio Candelabrum, which is in two pieces. The base (attributed to Nicolas of Verdun, 12th century), characterized by a fantastic ensemble of vines, vegetables and imaginary animals; and the stem, of the mid-16th century.
  • In the left aisle, the Arcimboldi monument by Alessi and Romanesque figures depicting the Apostles in red marble and the neo-Classic baptistry by Pellegrini.
  • A small red light bulb in the dome above the apse marks the spot where one of the nails reputedly from the Crucifixion of Christ has been placed. The Holy Nail is retrieved and exposed to the public every year, during a celebration known as the Rite of the Nivola.
  • In November–December, in the days surrounding the birthdate of Saint Charles Borromeo, a series of large canvases, the Quadroni are exhibited along the nave.
  • The 5-manual, 225-rank pipe-organ, built jointly by the Tamburini and Mascioni Italian organbuilding firms on Mussolini's command, is currently the largest organ in all of Italy
In literature

Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley used to read literature inside the Duomo.Alfred, Lord Tennyson enjoyed the view of the Alps from the Duomo roof.

The American writer and journalist Mark Twain visited Milan in the summer of 1867. He dedicated chapter 18 of Innocents Abroad to the Milan Cathedral, including many physical and historical details, and a now uncommon visit to the roof. He describes the Duomo as follows:

Oscar Wilde visited Milan in June 1875. In a letter to his mother he wrote: "The Cathedral is an awful failure. Outside the design is monstrous and inartistic. The over-elaborated details stuck high up where no one can see them; everything is vile in it; it is, however, imposing and gigantic as a failure, through its great size and elaborate execution."

In Italian Hours Henry James describes “a certain exhibition that I privately enjoyed of the relics of St. Charles Borromeus. This holy man lies at his eternal rest in a small but gorgeous sepulchral chapel … and for the modest sum of five francs you may have his shrivelled mortality unveiled and gaze at it with whatever reserves occur to you. The Catholic Church never renounces a chance of the sublime for fear of a chance of the ridiculous--especially when the chance of the sublime may be the very excellent chance of five francs. The performance in question, of which the good San Carlo paid in the first instance the cost, was impressive certainly, but as a monstrous matter or a grim comedy may still be. The little sacristan, having secured his audience, … lighted a couple of extra candles and proceeded to remove from above the altar, by means of a crank, a sort of sliding shutter, just as you may see a shop-boy do of a morning at his master's window. In this case too a large sheet of plate-glass was uncovered, and to form an idea of the étalage you must imagine that a jeweller, for reasons of his own, has struck an unnatural partnership with an undertaker. The black mummified corpse of the saint is stretched out in a glass coffin, clad in his mouldering canonicals, mitred, crosiered and gloved, glittering with votive jewels. It is an extraordinary mixture of death and life; the desiccated clay, the ashen rags, the hideous little black mask and skull, and the living, glowing, twinkling splendour of diamonds, emeralds and sapphires. The collection is really fine, and many great historic names are attached to the different offerings. Whatever may be the better opinion as to the future of the Church, I can't help thinking she will make a figure in the world so long as she retains this great fund of precious "properties," this prodigious capital decoratively invested and scintillating throughout Christendom at effectively-scattered points.”

In popular culture
  • The 1934 song "O mia bela Madonina" by Giovanni d'Anzi about the golden Madonna statue on the spire can be considered today an unofficial "city anthem" of Milan.
  • Luchino Visconti's 1960 film Rocco e i suoi fratelli, set in Milan, has a scene which takes place on the roof of the cathedral.
  • Many Milanese dialect speakers, due to the centuries needed to complete the Duomo, use the "Fabbrica del Duomo" ("Fabrica del Dom" in the dialect) as an adjective (sometimes humorously, sometimes not) to describe an extremely long, too complex task, maybe even impossible to complete.
  • The Italian phrase "mangiare a ufo", stemming from the Milanese dialect mangià a uf meaning "being paid for a job not done", comes from the fact that the goods used to build the Duomo wore the inscription "A.U.F.", shorthand for Latin "Ad Usum Fabricae" (to be used for the construction) and were exempt from taxation.
  • A souvenir model of the cathedral was thrown at the nose of Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi during an attack on December 13, 2009.
  • In the song "In Every Age" from the musical Titanic. Comparing the building with the Pyramids of Egypt and the Titanic as one of the greatest feats of architecture.

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